Plants and flowers are quite high on my list of favorite things. So, when the chance came to enlarge my home veggie patch, I decided to set about installing a raised cut flower garden bed as well. My reasoning being: I do love my vegetables, but I love flowers more!
And in my defence, what beats fresh cut flowers straight from the garden?
Anyhow, I have oodles of firsthand experience in the planning and planting department and years of gardening experience under my belt. As such, this is the perfect opportunity to share with you the most fundamental aspects to think about when planning and planting a cut flower garden. A “how-to” article, laying out the process in an easy step-by step nature.
Important Aspects to Consider When Planning a Cut Flower Garden
First, let’s talk about size.
I had a long and narrow strip of land to fill, which actually worked out to my advantage. Experience has taught me that I’d need good access to plant, stake, tie back and eventually cut my flowers, as well as watering in the occasionally dry summers. (Yes, I’m in the U.K.!) This meant that a long, narrow cutting bed would be a good move, allowing me to easily carry out these duties.
I also wanted to incorporate two homemade plant obelisks into my design. These would give height and structure to my cutting bed whilst containing rambling climbers such as the scrumptious “Everlasting Sweet Peas”. This is one of my all-time favorites and a “must-have” in every garden.
Whatever sized plot you have, make room for pathways or stepping stones to allow for easy access. This will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
Neatly following on to my next topic: structure. You need to have layers of planting with every garden bed. Without these layers, all your plants will end up at one height and look a muddle. Therefore, you need to work out where your tallest plants will be sited in your cutting garden, which in turn will help create the basic structure. My cut flower bed faces our house, so I chose to plant it with the tallest plants, such as Verbena benariensis, Gladioli etc, at the back of the bed. It looks great viewed from our windows.
Another important element of structure is that of the plants themselves. When choosing your plants, certainly include those of different growing forms, heights and textures. This diversity adds interest to your cut flower bed before your actual flowers have even arrived.
In the same vein as what we discussed above, you also need to incorporate some evergreen foliage plants into your planting plan. These will be a staple of your cutting garden throughout the seasons, even when there are no herbaceous plants on show. There are a good range of small, shrubby evergreens which look fabulous in floral displays, so don’t overlook them.
Roses are another great staple for a cutting garden. Their form is always present, they’ll grow pretty much anywhere, and they look great in flower displays. Try thinking of them as a focal point in your planting design.
I just love bulbs and incorporate them into every cutting garden. There are a huge variety of winter, spring, summer and autumn flowering bulbs that can all be used for cut flowers and literally bring your cut flower bed to life.
As your herbaceous plants get started, your spring flowering bulbs will mingle in between, eventually dying down. Summer and autumn flowering bulbs grow in amongst your main flowers, taking up little planting space but making a big impact.
Using flowering bulbs in this continuous way throughout the year also keeps your cutting garden fresh with every new season. A definite winner, in my opinion.
Siting your plot
Most flowering plants perform better in a sheltered, sunny site, away from damaging high winds. Those can all too easily flatten your plants and disarray your flowers. A lightly shaded position is also fine in theory, allowing for a greater selection of plants.
To Raise or Not to Raise?
For me, this was a really important consideration as my illness means I have limited mobility. I’m okay with getting down to weed, but getting back up again is another matter altogether! Consequently, my cutting bed is raised 3 x sleepers high (about 18 inches), allowing me to tinker with ease whilst sat on a stool.
Furthermore, why make it more difficult than it has to be? A raised cut flower bed is much easier to work on for everyone, no? In addition, the height of the bed allows a person to have complete control over the soil inside. You can tailor it to your plant’s needs, adding more drainage, organic matter or sandy soil where needed.
This neatly brings me to my next topic, and one of the most important: your soil.
All plants need well-draining, nutritious soil to reach their full potential, so don’t scrimp on this important element. I used the best quality soil that I could, within my budget, and added some horticultural grit, coarse sand, mature garden compost and well-rotted horse manure.
I mixed this lot together in a wheel barrow and periodically filled my raised cutting bed to around and inch from the top. This nutritious mixture will provide my plants with sufficient drainage and nutrients for the coming growing year. Its loose texture will also help my newly planted flowers root quickly within my cut flower bed.
Now that we’ve been through the basics, let’s get to the good bit: the plants.
Planning your Cut Flower Garden
Choosing your Plants
The key to a successful cut flower garden is all in your choice of plants.
You need to choose flowering plants with long stems, a long vase life, and ideally, a lengthy flowering period. All these factors will keep you in freshly cut flowers for many months of the year.
Below is a list of the most successful plants for your very own Cut Flower Garden. Feel free to improvise with your own favorites too.
Favorite Flowering Bulbs for a Cut Flower Garden
All of the bulbs listed here have a great variety of size, color choice, flower form, and flowering periods. Choose a couple of your own favorites under each plant group.
- Tulips, Gladioli, Alliums, Lilies, Agapanthus, Nerine, Muscari
Favorite Herbaceous Perennials for a Cut Flower Garden
Here I have listed a whole range of floriferous perennials that are well suited to a cut flower garden. You’ll need some tall plants, some short ones, and many in between for a successful cut flower bed.
These have lovely long flower stems and large, flat clusters of small flowers at the top of each stem. Check out Achillea millefolium “Lilac Beauty” and Achillea filipendulina “Cloth of Gold” – my two favorite varieties.
A much-loved cut flower and fabulous bloomer. You’ll find a huge range of colors and flowers available, though my favorite is “Avignon Pink”.
These Michaelmas Daisy blooms make a lovely show and have a long-flowering period. In fact, two of my best varieties are Aster novi belgii “Audrey” and Aster x Frikartii “Monch”. The latter has beautiful lilac purple flowers with bright yellow centers.
Poppies (Papaver orientale)
Everyone loves poppies: their flowers are big and bold and I love their seed heads in dry flower arrangements. I have three favorites: obviously the red version Papaver orientale “Regal Red” is a must have. This is swiftly followed by “Patty’s Plum” and the light pink “Victoria Louise”.
Beautiful, large daisy-like flower heads attract me to the Echinacea genus, likewise to a host of wildlife. My favorites are the white varieties, such as “Virgin White” and“White Swan”.
The Dianthus genus has a host of pretty varieties for you to choose from. I personally like the fluffy green foliage-like flower heads of Dianthus barbatus “Green Wicky”. This is because they bring a unique flower structure to the cut flower bed.
Big, breathtaking blooms make Dahlias the staple of my own cut flower bed. This is a vast genus and one I like to experiment with in pretty much every flower bed. The flower head structure is diverse, bringing enthusiasts a range of up to 14 different flower structures, in addition to blooms in a whole rainbow of colors.
They grow from an underground tuber and are not fully frost-hardy. As a result, dahlias will need to be lifted in the autumn, kept dry over the winter and replanted the following spring.
I have had a tough job finding my favorites, but at this moment I’m in love with the peony-flowered “Bishop of Llandaff”. I also love the huge blooms of “Café au Lait”, the double blooms of “Melody Dora”, and the captivating dark red and white combo of “Duet”.
Much smaller in form than the dahlias above, but by no means less easy on the eye. Rananculus are really coming into their own in cut flower arrangements with their rich and flouncy flower heads. Take a peek at Ranunculus asiaticus “Friandine Rose Picotee” and “Pauline Chocolate”. Both have an “antiqued” quality about them.
Sea Holly (Echinops and Eryngiums)
Although I’ve bunched these two together, they’re two different decorative plant genera that have spectacular colored foliage with similarly engaging flower heads. Spiky in nature and glaucous blue in color, both make perfect and unusual additions to any cut flower bed. In fact, it’s this diversity that will create outstanding floral arrangements for your home.
The best two varieties are Echinops ritro “Veitch’s Blue” and Eryngium “Miss Wilmott’s Ghost”. My latter choice is a spiky, multi-headed variety with ghostly silvery-white foliage. Just perfect.
Baby’s Breath (Gypsophyllia)
It’s impossible not to include this “fairy dust” plant. After all, it’s a traditional filler in cut flower arrangements and doesn’t mind being trimmed too much. Its delicate form produces sprays of tiny white flowers, making it irreplaceable. Try to look for the “paniculata” variety, otherwise known as “Baby’s Breath” because it has a far more delicate form, topped with clouds of tiny white flowers.
The blousy blooms so typical of this plant family never fail to put a smile on my face. It’s a steadfast member of my own cut flower bed, with up to nearly 40 recognized species at present. Alongside dahlias, this plant genus is everywhere in my garden, bringing dramatic, opulent flower form and colorful foliage, to boot.
Three of my favourites in this Peony category are the delicate pink “Sarah Bernhardt”, creamy yellow “Duchesse de Nemours” and the pure white “Madame Lemoine”. To truly appreciate them, you do need to take a look for yourself.
These may not be your typical choice for a cut flower garden, but over the last two years I’ve been bowled over by the sheer volume of flowers these plants produce. Hence, I’ve incorporated them into my garden and now, new cutting bed.
I’m particularly enamoured with the golden varieties, Coreopsis solanna “Golden Sphere” (its flowers are literally that), plus Coreopsis grandiflora “Early Sunrise”. Both have bright, golden yellow blooms which last throughout the summer and work perfectly well as cut flowers.
Similar to the oxeye daisy, my favorite of this plant family is Leucanthemum x superbum, with its mass of large daisy-like flowers. These have a long flowering period, great structure and long, sturdy stems—all perfect qualities for cut flowers. Many cultivars such as “Becky”, “Wirral Pride”, “Silberprinzesschen” (“Silver Princess”) and “Snow Lady” are some of my fondest.
Many people love delphiniums for their showy spikes of colorful summer flowers, often using them for cutting garden planting. However, I find it rather upsetting to snip off a sole grown flower head, when it has taken all summer to grow. Because of this, I prefer them in their natural state, towards the back of my garden beds.
On the other hand, they do have a real presence. If you’d like to incorporate them, they’re available in varying shades of blue, pink, white and purple.
Two of my best varieties for the are “Butterball”, whose creamy, butter-yellow blooms are simply astounding, and the contrasting “Black Knight” . The latter has the deepest shade of blue-black blooms.
Whenever there’s enough space, and I need a long-lasting, reliable flower, there are a couple of brilliant Phlox varieties I can’t seem to get enough of.
The fragrant, pure-white flowering Phlox paniculata “David” has a vigorous growth habit, mildew-resistant foliage and sturdy stems. In contrast, the antique-pink Phlox paniculata “Dado Hanbury Forbes” has a dusky-pink tone and floral fragrance. Both produce an abundance of sturdy-stemmed inflorescences, making them a perfect addition to your cut flower bed.
Favorite Grasses for Foliage Appeal
When planning your bed, it’s important to include foliage plants and those with diverse flower structures. Ornamental grasses are easily grown, generally clump-forming and produce wonderful plumage. I’ve listed three of the best that will bring something a little special to your cut flower garden.
Miscanthus sinensis “Kleine Silberspinne”
Chinese Silver Grass is a compact perennial with a dramatic form and upright, feathery red-brown, flowering plumes in the summer. Come autumn, these fade to silver, hence their name. I planted one at either end of my cut flower garden to give it height and drama.
Miscanthus sinensis “Zebrinus”
This variety is an attractive, clump-forming “zebra” grass with dark green linear foliage, marked with contrasting white stripes. A firm favorite of mine.
This perennial, otherwise known as “Greater Quaking Grass”, has some of the prettiest flower heads of all grasses. It grows to around 60 cm tall, with long, thin stems and pendulous, oval flower heads, and rightly deserves a place in your garden plan.
Everyone has their favorite annual plants. As a result, I’ve included some delicate “fillers” as well as some flower superstars.
I came across this a few years ago, after a visit to Sarah Ravens Cutting Garden. I liked it so much that I’ve been growing it as an annual ever since. It’s a bold variety, with beautiful mini-handkerchiefs on delicate umbellifer flower heads. Another great addition to your cutting bed that readily re-seeds itself.
Here we have an annually-grown “Fountain grass” with a clumping habit and linear leaves that reach up to around 3 feet. The foliage is good, but the long, feathery-pink, flower panicles with their bristly texture and flowing texture really earn their place in our cut flower garden. A great asset.
I can’t explain how brilliant cosmos are as an annual filler. I grow at least two varieties every year, which provide me with a whole summer of bright, daisy-like blooms. Their foliage is very delicate and feathery, making them a superb all-rounder for the cut flower bed.
Two of this year’s favourites are the double-flowering Cosmos bipinnatus “Double Click Cranberries” and the pure “Phyche White”. There is enough variety within the Cosmos genus to choose different flowers every year, without duplication. Why not take a look for yourself?
No garden is complete without sunflowers‘ towering presence and bright blooms. These make good cut flowers, but will need adequate staking to avoid wind damage. I don’t necessarily advocate them purely for your cut flower garden: in fact, I often plant them through the middle of my bean row to attract pollinating insects towards my beans.
The common yellow variety is botanically known as Helianthus annus. In contrast, a more unusual variety that I prefer is the rich “Ruby Sunset”. It has the most beautiful deep ruby-red blooms, almost vintage in appearance. Additionally, I tend to pinch my young plants out early on which produces multiple blooms, rather than just one.
Favourite Shrubs with Great Foliage, Flower or Berry Interest
Three of the best cultivars are “Blondie”, “Emerald and Gold” and “Emerald Gaiety”. All of these are evergreen and make perfect foliage for flower displays.
These dogwood varieties really come into their own in the winter months, bringing color when all around can be a little bland. Check out the amazing orange stems of Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire” and “Anny’s Winter Orange”, the bright red Cornus alba “Siberica”, and the acid yellow stems of Cornus sericea “Flaviramea”. All are great in the garden and add all-season interest to your floral arrangements.
There are many interesting textures, hues, and foliage forms that can be used with cut flowers. I tend to go rummaging in the garden, making use of everything at hand.
Making your Plant Selections
Have you made your plant selection with a varied mix of sizes, texture, flower structures, and foliage? Excellent. Now ‘s the time to plan where to plant your lovely choices. Planting in sets of 3 tends to work best for a good floral show.
Remember that the tallest plants need to go either in the center or back of your bed, gradually reducing in height towards the edges. Therefore, you’ll need to keep a note of your plants’ eventual sizes to produce an accurate plan.
Planning is Important
Draw up a simple to-scale plan showing the size of the flower bed. This allows you to really see how many plants you’ll need, giving an invaluable gauge on plant spacing.
Once you’ve drawn a to-scale plan you’re happy with, get your real bed ready for planting.
Preparing your Cut Flower Garden
Your soil should be well prepared prior to planting, and have a light, loose, finely grained texture.
Using your Planting Plan
Copy the layout of plants onto your cutting bed, leaving your plants in their pots. Once you’ve finished, take a step back and look at the bed. You’ll now get an idea of how your selected plants work together.
There should be a good range of leaf shapes, stems, foliage and plant forms. At this point you can always alter their position slightly, or swap plant groups around until you’re happy with the planting layout. (Always take into account their height and spread requirements.)
When you’re completely happy with the layout, you can start planting your flower bed. I usually start at one corner and work my way around the bed.
Planting and Watering Your Cut Flower Garden
This can take quite a while, so be prepared. Once you have finished planting your perennial plants you can then use the same method with your bulb planting.
Once you’ve made your bulb selection, plant them into your cutting bed around your existing plants. Place the smallest at the front (in full view), staggering them height-wise towards the back of your bed. Bulbs are easier to place around your existing plants, rather than putting them in first.
Now that your cut flower bed is planted up, it’s time to water the plants in. This will help them to settle and encourage root to soil adherence.
Water your plants well every other day or so for the first week to ten days, if the weather has been dry. Following the initial settling in, continue your watering regime once every three to four days until your plants become established, with new growth easily visible.
Maintaining Your Garden
Staking your plants
Before your plants have really got going, now’s the time to give them support for the entire growing season. Use a grid system of staking over the entire cut flower bed while plants are still small using 3-foot-long bamboo canes and strong garden string. This is a far more successful method than trying to stake individual plants once they’ve become tall and heavy.
If you’ve planted climbers like sweet peas, remember to keep these tied into their growing structure. This will avoid a tangled mess later on.
Once your plants have started strong growth, you’ll have few weeds. Try to keep the bed as weed-free as you can.
You’ll need to gauge when to water your new Cut Flower Bed around the weather. Once to twice a week is usually adequate, but don’t let them totally dry out.
Fertilizing your Plants
Throughout the growing season, feed your plants with a balanced, well-diluted liquid feed once every three weeks. You’ll notice a great difference in plant vigor and health when adequately fertilized. Plants will be stronger, grow faster, and produce higher-quality blooms.
Further Tips for Successful Cut Flowers
- Always cut your flower stems at an angle, as this helps them absorb more water.
- Add a small splash of bleach and a teaspoon of sugar to your vase of water. The bleach will reduce the bacteria in the water, while the sugar gives the right amount of nutrients for your cut flowers.
- Remove as much foliage on the stems as you can. When in water, foliage can become smelly, slimy and cause bacteria to spread.
- Always top up your vase water with fresh water daily. Some cut flowers are exceptionally thirsty, drinking more than you’d think.
- Never mix cut daffodils with other cut flowers straight away. These secrete a sap that can shorten the vase life of other flowers, but there’s a way around that. Cut your daffodils and then put them in a vase of water by themselves for around half an hour. Then you can add them to your other blooms.
Have fun and be experimental with your choices. This is when you find out which plants really work together.